Inclusion needs to be included in vision for public education
Today’s classrooms are rich and diverse, but it wasn’t always that way. There was a time when segregation was the norm for children who had exceptional needs. In Alberta, as well as in much of the world, education systems have become much more inclusive.
In our work with Finnish schools, we have learned that their philosophy is that the teacher has the ultimate responsibility for student learning, and everyone and everything in the system is designed to support the teacher to be able to do so.
Alberta classrooms have come a long way when it comes to the philosophy and action related to inclusion. In research conducted through the Blue Ribbon Panel on Inclusive Education in 2014, teachers noted their support for inclusion but, disturbingly, many also shared that they had seen a decline in supports and resources relative to the complexity and number of student needs in their classrooms.
Supports and resources for students with exceptional needs include
- school counsellors,
- speech and language pathologists,
- behaviour support specialists,
- well-trained teaching assistants,
- occupational therapists,
- accessible school facilities,
- assistive technologies,
- time for planning and
- time for collaboration with colleagues and specialists.
Nothing on this list can be reduced without having negative effects on Alberta students and classrooms.
The report of the Blue Ribbon Panel outlined 38 recommendations to make inclusion work in schools, many of which have yet to be addressed. Through the Finnish education system and our own teachers, we continue to see that creating a systematic approach to inclusion requires a wide range of elements, such as a shared vision, leadership, resources and research.
We know that creating an environment where inclusion can be sustained and flourish is not easy. It isn’t done without a plan, commitment or resources. Alberta teachers are the ones focused on student success, and they need timely access to supports and resources to make inclusion work for all students.
Inclusion is not without significant financial costs, but our students are worth it. No matter what changes are swirling around education in the coming months and years, teachers need to keep that sentiment top of mind and make their voices heard. ❚